The Veal “Victory:” Behind the Music
When I heard about the "victory" claimed by PETA regarding ceasing the use of veal crates by 2017 (to replace them with another housing system), at which point I’ll be nearly 50-years old, my first thought was: that’s a victory? I wallpapered my family’s kitchen with photos of male calves in veal crates in 1982, for heaven’s sake! If there’s a poster animal for torture, it’s always been the veal calf. And 25 years after the wallpapering incident, there’s some kind of apparent victory that will end the torture in a decade? Clearly, there are pieces to the puzzle that I don’t know, as I must admit I haven’t actually been following the veal cause because cow-eating is cow-eating, no matter what you call it.
Enter James LaVeck, who sent me an article by Dan Murphy, an animal industry pundit, published in Meat & Poultry, which by the way has a Tuesdays with Temple feature each week, with Temple Grandin (and has since 2002). The article is called "The Real Deal on Veal: Industry Should Get the Credit for Investing in Change, Not Interest Groups," and you have to be a registered user to view this particular article (it seems that’s easy enough to do). In case you thought PETA (or the HSUS, for that matter) should get the, um, credit (?) for the change in the way male calves are treated before they’re slaughtered, read what Murphy has to say . . .
The news reports appeared in both mainstream media and trade journals last week. They stated that the American Veal Association’s board of directors had unanimously voted, in effect, to re-invent its own industry, approving a total transition from the use of crates to group housing systems by the end of 2017.
Momentous news, but there’s one problem.
The actual vote took place in May, and the only reason it attracted attention three months later was the publicity generated by the Humane Society of the United States and PETA, who both took pains to crow about the "victory" they’d achieved in forcing the industry to abandon the use of stalls.
"For years, the humane community in the United States has said that these crates are inhumane and unnecessary," stated an HSUS news release. "We are pleased that the industry now agrees and is taking some steps to phase out this confinement system."
PETA, not surprisingly, went even further over the top. "We are popping champagne corks this week because veal crates – long symbolizing the worst of the worst of farming practices – are on their way to extinction," the group announced.
None of that’s a surprise. But what was a surprise to me was that the veal industry has been setting the stage for the PETA/HSUS "victory" for . . . guess how long? Since before I started wallpapering my parent’s kitchen. Murphy continues . . .
Here’s the real reason the change was made – and by the way, this is an evolution that veal industry leadership has been exploring for longer than PETA has even existed. The vote came about not just because customer surveys indicated that longer term growth mandated a switch from stall to group housing but more importantly, because technology enabled the change. "The truth is that we now have computer systems that allow veal producers to automate the management of group housing in ways that at least approximate the efficiencies of individual housing," explained Bryan Scott, the American Veal Association’s executive vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs. "When you have to monitor feed intake in a group, you need a system sophisticated enough to track and control what each calf eats in order to maintain optimum herd health."
Murphy explains: "Often, there are simply no economically viable alternatives to unwanted production practices." In other words, if pig slaughterers were to house pigs in an environment that the average meat-eating American would deem humane, the meat that is the end result of their slaughter would be far too expensive for the industry to produce.
Joseph Stookey, professor of Applied Ethology at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine addresses why voter initiatives to demand changes in the way we treat nonhumans bred and raised for slaughter for food are necessary. Because the slaughter industries are so powerful that they don’t have to change until they’re darn ready, and all of their technology for more efficient slaughter and lower mortality rates (that’s unplanned mortality prior to the planned mortality) are in place.
Now, pay attention to this last part that I’d paraphrase or summarize if I thought it would help. But the words speak for themselves.
Don’t get me wrong. I understand that the argument advanced against industry being "forced" to make changes dictated by consumers – or their surrogates in the activist community – is that the end point of such a process is industry’s eventual abolition, a word that activists love to connect to slavery. But they’re wrong – about both the diction and the destination. When industry fixes the "sore spots" that trigger consumer concerns (and ballot measures), the result is greater support, improved sales and increased approval for the farmers, producers and processors involved.
Animal welfare is a goal in and of itself, as Dr. Stookey points out. But it’s also a steppingstone, not to eliminating the meat and poultry industry, but to ensuring its ultimate viability.
Did you get that? I think it’s worth repeating.
When industry fixes the "sore spots" that trigger
consumer concerns (and ballot measures), the result is greater support,
improved sales and increased approval for the farmers, producers and
Animal welfare is a goal in and of itself, as Dr. Stookey points out.
But it’s also a steppingstone, not to eliminating the meat and poultry
industry, but to ensuring its ultimate viability.
That’s according to the industry, folks. Maybe this real-life example will help put the seemingly-unending debate at ANIMALBLAWG to rest.